“A lot of us in the organization said he reminded us of Buster Posey,” said Richmond Flying Squirrels hitting coach, Ken Joyce. “In the sense that he has that same demeanor. He has that attitude in the way he goes about his business. He’s professional, came from a decent family, and a good school at St. John’s.”
That kind of summation of a player sounds like something Trent Baalke would say after another successful NFL Draft. Like the 49ers, the San Francisco Giants seem drawn to high character players who come from good families and take their opportunity to make a living as a professional athlete seriously.
Of course, this doesn’t always translate to success. In Posey’s case, it most certainly did. To make such a favorable comparison when discussing Joe Panik‘s approach to the game suggests that the Giants drafted a player who is ready to take the next step and understands the work necessary to excel at each level.
Twenty-two year-old Panik was drafted with the 29th pick of the 1st round in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from St. John’s University (Queens, NY). He ranked tenth among college baseball players with a .509 OBP and was a finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, an honor given to the nation’s top shortstop. At the time, most pundits suggested that Panik’s game most likely translated best at second base at the major league level.
The scouting report on Panik is favorable, although most scouts saw his ceiling as a utility player and didn’t have him going in the 1st round. At 6’1, 190 lbs, Panik possesses an average frame with solid athleticism. He has great contact ability like Marco Scutaro, taking a simple and quiet swing consistently through the strike zone. He also uses the whole field well in his approach at the plate. His OBP numbers suggest a knack for pitch recognition. One of the biggest question marks surrounding Panik was whether or not he could adjust to high-end velocity and drive the ball with more authority at the upper levels rather than simply slapping it around the infield. With a lack of innate raw power, he projects more as a gap-to-gap hitter, again not unlike Scutaro.
Panik’s modest arm strength, solid throwing mechanics on the run, and quick transfer and unload times with plus accuracy are perhaps the biggest reasons for a position change from shortstop to second base. His fundamentals with the glove are solid, and his decent range makes him an ideal candidate for the right side of the infield.
Panik is an instinctual, grinder of a player with a high baseball IQ. He made his professional debut in 2011 at Class-A short season with Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the Northwest League. He got off to a roaring start, leading the league with a .341 batting average, 49 runs scored, 54 RBIs, and a .401 OBP, earning the MVP award. An invitation to the Arizona Fall League provided Panik with his first opportunity to play second base regularly. He was rated the tenth best second base prospect according to MLB.com prior to the start of the 2012 season.
The Giants pushed Panik aggressively in 2012, and Panik hit .297, with 76 RBIs and 58 BB in the High-A California League (San Jose Giants). He posted third in the league with 159 hits, and after the All-Star break, he hit .324, including a .337 average with runners in scoring position. This earned Panik a promotion from High-A to Double-A, where the superior pitching in the Eastern League should pose a stiffer challenge to Panik. Double-A has a way of sorting out all the real prospects, so this is definitely the year to monitor Panik’s progress.
As of this posting, here are Panik’s stats batting in the 2-hole for Richmond:
.304 BA, .380 OBP, .788 OPS, 9 doubles, 2 triples, and 12 RBIs in 32 games.
Currently, he’s made 4 errors in those 32 games, sporting a .933 fielding percentage.
Panik’s thoughts on his progress so far: “I was pretty excited to come to the Eastern League, making the jump from High-A to Double-A. I was looking forward to it. So far, I’ve gotten off to a good start, and I’ve really gotten comfortable with the competition. Going forward, I’m very confident.”
If he can continue to make progress driving the ball to the outfield and he maintains his solid average and OBS, then Panik should find himself starting for Triple-A Fresno (Fresno Grizzlies) in 2014 with a possible September call-up that year. The third year in Scutaro’s deal was the deal-breaker in resigning him, but the front office seems content to write that off as an acceptable loss if he can remain productive for the first two years of the deal. A passing of the torch, so to speak, from Scutaro to Panik in 2015 appears to be the grand scheme in the end.
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